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Roger Kleier makes right with musical wrongs

The concept of a wrong sound or bad chord has always fascinated
Roger Kleier. Partially, for its potential as an unusual and
promisingly uncomfortable addition to any of his compositions:

“Mistakes and wrongness have a lot to do with my aesthetic…I
was just always one of those people that was fascinated with the
wrong notes when I was a kid listening to orchestra tune-ups, I
always liked the tuning up parts,” Kleier said.

The other part of a wrong note that is so satisfying to Kleier
is how a wrong note can expose the humanity that lies behind any
part of a composition, or any musician. Part of his process of
creating a composition, or playing one, is a concern with
reflecting humanity, or communicating something to the audience
about being human.

Roger Kleier, Center for Contemporary Music Composer in
residence for Fall 2003, gave his first concert this year at Mills,
on Oct. 6, accompanied by musicians Annie Gosfield (keyboards),
Joan Jeanrenaud (cello), Willie Winant (percussion), and visual
imagery by graduate student Matt Volla.

The show began with two short videos. The first was a rapidly
changing patio scene that captured variations in people’s
activities. In the second video, the audience watched a pink
bowling ball entering a row of pink-striped pins with varying
results every time. The visual images were sped up, then slowed
down, then layered with blurring versions of the same image.

Volla and Kleier’s collaboration was very loose. Kleier gave
Volla several recordings prior to the show, and asked him to come
up with visuals to go along with the music, what Kleier likens to a
“soundtrack done backwards.”

The combination of film and music without narrative forced
audience members to look deeply inside the completed work and to
create their own explanations or understandings of the

After the two videos, Kleier played a solo guitar piece that led
into a free-form improvisation session between all members of the

During the group’s improvisation, Kleier implemented the
technique of “musique concrete” a term used to describe a movement
in which composers used sound recordings to create music, that
began in France in the 1950s.

“The technology they were using was very primitive, so what they
could come up with was actually quite impressive.” Kleier
explained. “I can do a lot of the same things with the click of a
mouse now.”

While musicians in the ensemble were improvising, Kleier used
eclectic sound recordings, including some earlier recordings of
musicians that were actually playing in the ensemble. At some
points in the concert, musicians were actually performing along
with recordings of themselves.

Kleier frequently records musicians playing their instruments,
and adds them to a catalogue of specific sounds he has stored.
After being initially recorded, the sounds are then moved to his
laptop, where he manipulates them into an ensemble or

“It’s not too different from sculpting. For instance, if you
were a sculptor working with metals, there would be certain types
of metals, certain shapes you would want to use, and you would have
to consider how to attach it if you weld it. I look at it in that
way too. I have this overall idea of what I want to do and then I
have to consider how I will achieve it. And then I go into my big
bin of sounds and see what I can slap together,” he explained.

Working with digital technology is incredibly convenient and
inexpensive for a composer such as Roger Kleier. Whereas earlier
composers working in the style of “musique concrete” had large
amounts of expensive machinery, a modern set up for a “hard-drive
composer” can be relatively affordable.

Kleier’s basic tools are a Macintosh iBook, and pro-tools
software. New technology is a major benefit to his composing,
because it allows for the opportunity to share files with other
sound recorders. The tools are also light and easy to carry, so it
is convenient for him to take all of his tools wherever he is

Before coming to Mills this year, Kleier had been a guest
lecturer at schools ranging from The Academy of Performing Arts in
Prague to Washington University in St. Louis. He has been awarded a
Harvestworks Residency and two Djerassi Residencies, among

Kleier’s show on Oct. 6 was an introduction to his writing and
performance styles for students and faculty: “I thought that since
this was my first concert here under my own name, it would also be
a good introduction for people who haven’t seen me, to see what I
do. It just seemed like a lot more fun to cover more ground,” he

The show ended with one last video from Volla, showing a group
of three to five adult male and female dancers jumping and skipping
in a room. The video examined the shapes and movement of their
bodies and how each physical characteristic complemented

While Kleier does not promise to give audience members a unique
experience every time that they see a show, he does hope that they
will have a subtly different experience or reaction to his playing
and compositions.

“We live in a society where so much of the music that you see is
like opening a can of Coke,” he said. ” Where you are promised a
‘unique experience’, but it’s going to be the exact same experience
every time you open that can of Coke, and that is what I am trying
to avoid.”